On Monday, the Colombian government shot down a small town’s attempt to block a multinational mining company from opening a gold mine there, saying a residents’ referendum held no legal weight. Fearing water pollution and the destruction of local forests, some 6,000 residents of Cajamarca, in central Colombia, voted against the mine on Sunday, 98% to 1.2%.
However, mining minister Germán Arce sent a reassuring message to the South African firm pursuing the project, AngloGold Ashanti. "Exploration licences retain their validity," he said in a radio interview. The licence has already been granted, and "the [courts] have been very precise about the fact that such [referendum] decisions do not apply retroactively," he said.
The minister also accused opponents of the mine of running a "disinformation" campaign, and downplayed the environmental risk. "We’re not talking about an open-air mine here. Nor are there a hundred rivers at risk," he said.
AngloGold Ashanti’s project in the Tolima region is still in the exploratory phase. The deposit could contain 28-million ounces of gold, according to initial estimates, which would be one of the biggest discoveries of the past decade. The company said it was "respectful" of the referendum and would evaluate the result, "at the same time as we continue with the rigorous work required to build consensus around the creation of a modern and environmentally responsible mining industry in Colombia".